….And we’re back in the room.
Sorry it’s been a bit quiet around here for the past couple of weeks. Nothing is wrong, as such, just…*gestures hopelessly at everything*…y’know….stuff.
When I was younger, my dear Mama taught me that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. (Other pearls of wisdom: “Your face will stay like that if the wind changes”, “I can see you, you know” and “Keep doing that and you’ll go blind.” Mind you, when teaching me about road safety, my parents also once told me that one of my aunt’s had their head chopped off when they got run over by a cyclist. I remember challenging them on this: “But she’s got a head now?”, which elicted the response that “it had grown back but took a very long time”. It’s probably a good job I never challenged the “you’ll go blind” one, or Lord knows what I’d have been told.)
But I digress.
What I’m trying to say is that I try to be positive, especially here, but for the past couple of weeks I’ve found that an increasingly difficult façade to project. I didn’t want to come on here and just whinge and moan about how tough things are when pretty much everyone is feeling it; I wanted to be upbeat, overwhelmed by some notion that I was a guiding light to all who visit here. And if I couldn’t do that, I’d rather say nothing at all, to misquote Ronan Keating.
I’ve sat at my laptop several times over the last two weeks, determined to write something, anything, just to dislodge the blockage, but on each occasion I closed my laptop again, article half-written, no faith in what had splurged out, and returned to scrolling through Netflix or NowTV in the hope of finding something to cleanse the soul.
And then it occured to me: at the moment, in these days of Covid-19 “lockdown”, this is my only outlet for venting. I’m still working from home, so the opportunity for a rant at the metaphorical water-cooler isn’t there; I can’t visit friends, who all live down in South London, as far away from me here in North London as possible (I’m really bad at taking hints); my parents have had enough on their plate without having to listen to me banging on about how frustrated I feel with the world right now; and God forbid you express an opinion on a social media platform like Twitter for fear of it being taken wildly out of context and misquoted as unequivocal evidence that you’re a racist transphobic mysoginistic homophobe. None of which I am, I hasten to add.
Which just leaves here.
So apologies to those of you who roll their eyes when I have one of my episodic rants, but I need to get a few things off my chest.
You’d think from what I have just said that I’d be delighted that “lockdown” restrictions are gradually being lifted. And you’d be wrong.
Before I go any further, I fully accept that these are unprecedented times, and that managing the country in such times is an incredibly difficult thing to have to do. And that the balancing act of the economy versus public safety is tricky, to say the least.
What would be nice right now would be to have a leader who was actually just that: a leader, rather than one who is just playing at being one and who looks increasingly out of his depth with every Wednesday PMQ’s.
So you won’t be surprised to learn that I also think the Government has got pretty much every important decision wrong from Day One.
This shouldn’t have been that complicated; I don’t know if you’ve noticed – although I think it’s a fairly safe bet that Dominic Raab hasn’t quite grasped it yet – but the United Kingdom is an island (or one big island, a slightly smaller island, and lots of teeny tiny ones, if you’re going to be pedantic) and so restricting the movement of potential virus carriers from coming into and going out of the country should be fairly straight-forwards.
Freedom of movement, that’s basically what Brexit was about, right? Stopping them pesky forreners from coming over here? Well here you go, here’s your chance to close the ports and airports, a dry run for when the Brexit transition period ends. Fill your boots.
But just as we failed to implement rules which were in place when we were in the EU (and then blamed the EU for that), so we failed to do anything. It’s only now, what, eleven, twelve? weeks in, that anyone entering the country who is displaying symptoms of the Covid virus must self-isolate for 14 days. Stable door, horse, bolted.
A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that if your job was one where you cannot work from home, then you must return to work, as long as you observed the social distancing rules at all times. Cue those in low-paid jobs – cleaners, retail workers – crammed onto public transport, where social distancing is simply not possible.
It’s hardly surprising that people in those kinds of jobs, who are more likely to come from BAME communties, have been found to be most susceptible to contracting the virus. Yes, because we’ve thrust them out into a potentially hostile environment to see how safe it is before us whities emerge. They are our canaries in a coalmine.
Let’s also not forget that at the start of the lockdown, we were told that wearing facemasks was a good idea, but might not have any real effect. And now, a couple of weeks after the poorly paid have been crowbarred onto buses, are we told that wearing a facemask when travelling on public transport is mandatory. Why wasn’t that in place when certain sections of our communites were told it was safe to return to work?
And this creates a ridiculous situation where some schools have reopened and teachers are told that they have to wear face masks should they travel to work on public transport, but not when they’re actually at work, as if a school is protected by some sort of force field which viruses bounce off of.
Plus, how disconcerting must it be for the children who have returned to school? It’s been sold to them as if they are returning to normal school life, when the reality is that there are whole load of new rules to observe. To them, right now, it must be unbearable, thinking that life will never get back to normal. I’m not sure we’ll ever know what psychological damage has been done to some of them.
See, much as I wish they were gone altogether, I don’t think restrictions should be getting lifted. Not yet. Not until we have a day, or preferably several days, when there are no new cases of people either contracting or dieing from the Covid virus. Which I fully accept is a very draconian position to take, but saving lives must take precedence here, surely?
The austerity measures we’ve all had to endure for the past ten years, the cutting back of social services, have been shown to be a lie. Remember when those on the right mockingly goaded that “there’s no magic money tree”? Well, we suddenly seem to have found it, not just to promote the notion of a No Deal Brexit (soon to be returning) but also to fund the furloughing of employees to save their jobs.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m saying this isn’t quite what we’ve previously been told.
And much as the Government try to claim that herd immunity – the idea that the virus should be allowed to spread throughout the country, until everyone has had it and (hopefully) can’t catch it again, and never mind that thousands may (and have) die – has never been the policy (and right at the start, it definitely was, I watched the press conference when they announced it), it seems pretty clear to me that’s exactly what’s going on now, albeit in a different name.
So brace yourself, for I fear there’s going to be a second wave, and all those lifted restrictions will slam back into place again.
Time for a tune:
Part of the problem here is the constant moving of goalposts, the flim-flam of governmental advice – and again, I totally get that as circumstances change, so does the advice.
The thing is, since “lockdown”, for the most part, the advice was quite consistent: Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives.
To extrapolate: remain indoors, only venture outside to buy food or medicines. This will lighten the load on the (criminally underfunded and underprepared) NHS, and by extension, save (some) lives.
Which of course leads me on to Dominic Cummings.
We all know what happened by now, but to recap: on 27th March, Cummings and his family drove from his London home to his parents’ property in Durham, at a time when the public were being told to stay at home to stop the spread of the coronavirus. As it all unravelled, it also became clear that Cummings had driven to Barnard Castle, a thirty-minute each way trip, to check that his eyesight was good enough to allow him to drive back to London. Witnesses, however, described seeing him and his family enjoying a picnic at the half-way point of this hour long round journey.
As calls for Cummings to be removed grew louder, Boris defended his plotter-in-chief’s action, refusing to sack him, and instead claiming that he had “acted on instinct” and that that was fine.
This was a massive slap in the face to all of us who had observed the very rules which Cummings had been part of devising. Regular readers will know that on April 19th, just days before his 80th birthday, my Dad had a fall which resulted in a five-week stay in hospital. Because of the lockdown rules, I could not visit him, nor could I visit my Mum, who – and I don’t think she’ll mind me saying this – alone for a sustained period of time for the first time in their many years of marriage, was perpetually worried and at a loose end throughout. We all felt helpless, impotent, useless. I took a few days off work, because whilst sometimes it’s good to have something to take your mind off whatever is going on in your life, I simply could not focus and I worried that I might be making expensive mistakes.
I can, but don’t, drive, so to visit my Mum would have involved me getting a train; I knew that at all London stations, police were out (not socially distancing or wearing PPE, I should add) challenging people as to the worthiness of their journey. I know damned well that had I rocked up at London St Pancras and told the enquiring officer that I was acting on my instinct I would have been sent back home pretty sharpish.
But it’s okay for Cummings, because he’s the puppeteer pulling Boris’ strings.
It was with much amusement and indignation that I read an entry from Brewer’s slang dictionary which said “Barney Castle” was existing slang for a “pathetic excuse” deriving from a 16th century general’s refusal to leave his fortified position there to engage in battle. I have no idea if that’s true or not – I suspect not, it’s just too delicious. But still, in these days of Fake News, worth repeating.
So here’s one for you and your ridiculous excuse of driving to check your eyesight, Cummings you absolute cretin:
And so to the other main event from the last two weeks: the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in America, here in the UK, and all across the world.
Anyone who has seen the footage of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer cannot help but have been horrified. I would only recommend that you seek it out if you have a strong stomach and really, really need verification.
There’s a tendency with such things to say “Well, they must have been doing something….”, but I have watched a lot of footage of peaceful protests where the police response has been alarmingly disproportionate. If I linked to every one, this page would never load for you to read.
Here’s some lowlights. Firstly, a car, containing a pregnant woman and in no way involved in the protests, has pepper spray fired at it by US Police:
Here’s your friendly Minneapolis police firing tear gas at journalists:
And here’s some footage of Minneapolis police slashing the tyres of parked cars, irrespective of whether the owners are or are not, involved in the protests:
Meanwhile in Houston, a protestor is nonchalantly trampled by a police horse:
Many years ago, I was in a protest in London where the horse-mounted police were sent in to disperse the crowd. It was – and excuse my language, for I have managed to get this far without the need for expletives – fucking terrifying. I’ll save this story for another day, because this is not about me.
Let’s not forget how we got here: by peaceful protestors being dispersed so that Trump could dog-whistle to his Bible-belt redneck supporters, by awkwardly holding up a book he has never read at a photo-opportunity:
And how do I know he’s never read it? Because of this:
This should have been sorted out years ago. In the 1990s, there were riots after the beating that Rodney King took at the hands of the LAPD, and it was promised that things would change. But they didn’t.
If you only watch one of the clips I’ve posted here, make it this one:
There’s only one song to play when faced with such horrors:
Okay, there’s more than one song. This is perhaps a more expected one. It came out in 1971, when there was genuine hope that the civil rights movement might have some long-lasting effect. And yet here we are, almost fifty years later, fighting the same fight:
I’m not quite finished yet.
And so to the protests on this side of the pond. In spirit, I’m with the protestors, of course. Systemic authoritarian racism is not limited to America, much as we might want to kid ourselves that it is.
But I have concerns.
Firstly, that if there is a second wave of the virus, that the Government will be able to point to the UK BLM protests as the cause, rather than any failing on their part.
Secondly, that solicitors Berryman Lace & Mawer (BLM) are going to be getting way too much business come their way.
And thirdly, that, as seems to be happening already, the dialogue is shifted away from matters of such great social importance as racial inequality, to a discussion about which statues are good and which are not.
I lived in Cardiff for many years, and visited Bristol many times, often going to see gigs at a venue called Colston Hall. I had no idea who Colston was, and even less of an idea that there was a statue erected to his memory and his legacy somewhere in the city.
For the uninitiated, we’re talking about Edward Colston, who amassed a personal fortune and subsequent notoriety on the back of his involvement in slave trading.
Had I known that, would that have been enough to stop me going to gigs at a venue named after him? Probably not, if I’m honest.
But when you have an historical figure held up as someone to be respected, by way of statues or public buildings or whatever, there has to come a time when their actions are scrutinised. The question has to be asked: does this person, with whom our city is so closely linked, continue to characterise and epitomise how we feel now?
Last weekend, protestors in Bristol gave a resounding thumbs down to this question, pushing over the statue of Colston and dumping it in the river.
Do I agree with it being removed? Absolutely. Do I agree with it being tossed into the Avon? Absolutely not.
What should have happened is that the statue was removed from public display and placed in a museum, where their fame, wealth and actions can be viewed and explained in a correct social context.
A statue says: We, as a city, respect and agree with this person’s actions. A museum place says: this person did a lot for this city, which is appreciated, but it’s complicated and here’s why:….
It’s all about the context.
Which is why I don’t have an easy answer to the question of Winston Churchill and the many statues erected in his honour. This is much more complicated: he is undoubtedly, and rightly, considered a hero of our wartime efforts. But at the same time, he held a lot of views which in the current climate would be considered racist. Because they were. Does one cancel out the other? Does his WW2 leadership mean that we should ignore the unpleasant stuff?
I have no answers on this point.
I do have a song though, which shouldn’t be taken too literally:
What I do have is a worry that the statues shenanigans will overshadow the BLM movement on this side of the pond.
It’s not about statues. It’s about equality.